At yesterday's Apple earnings call, CEO Steve Jobs quelled rumors that the company was on the verge of producing a smaller 7-inch iPad to counter the arrival of such mini slates as Samsung's Galaxy Tab. He said that these devices were "tweeners" and would be dead on arrival. He scoffed that normal-size human fingers are simply too big to be able to accurately hit icons on a screen that size.
"Apple has done extensive user testing and we really understand this stuff," he said. "There are clear limits on how close you can place things on a touchscreen, which is why we think 10-inch is the minimum screen size to create great tablet apps."
He also added that, "No tablet can compete with a smartphone. And given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pocket, giving up screen area to fit in a pocket is a bad trade-off," he said.
Now, Mr. Jobs spoke with his usual conviction--and he sounded very convincing. But this is not the first time he's gone on record saying his company didn't have any interest in producing a product and later come out with it. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of his past statements.
- In 2004, Jobs said that Apple would not introduce a video iPod, insisting the company was focused on music. We know what happened there.
- In 2003, in an interview with Walt Mossberg at the All Things D conference, Jobs said Apple wouldn't do well in the cell phone business. Flash forward a few years.
- During that same interview, he said Apple was not working on a tablet. "There are no plans to make a tablet," Jobs said. "It turns out people want keyboards.... We look at the tablet, and we think it is going to fail." Apparently, Apple filed a patent in 2004 for a tabletlike device. It may have been related to the iPhone, but to completely write off the tablet concept seems a tad suspect (of course, touch-screen technology has changed between 2004 and 2010).
- In 2008, Jobs was famously not impressed with Amazon's Kindle. "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore," he said. "Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read any more." Yet, when he introduced the iPad back in January, he was more complimentary: "Amazon's done a great job at pioneering this functionality with their Kindle, and we're going to stand on their shoulders and go a bit further."
Jobs has made some other "sneaky" statements, which Wired's Gadget Lab blogger Brian Chen summarizes nicely in this post, but the point is, while Jobs may actually be telling the truth at the time he makes his declarations, the more cynical among us can choose to take what he says with a grain of salt. For starters, in an effort not to disrupt holiday sales, Jobs doesn't want people thinking that Apple will be bringing out any new iPads any time soon (most likely April of 2011 if you're to believe him). And I'm sorry but I just don't get the human-fingers-are-too-big-for-the-smaller-screen-size argument when there are all these smartphones around.
On top of that, I use an iPad almost every day, and on most days I wish the thing were smaller--and lighter. True, Apple can probably slim it down a bit in the next generation, but it's still going to be a little heavy to hold and tote around with you (I stopped bringing it to work).
In fact, if given the choice between a smaller 7-inch iPad and the current model, I'd gladly take the smaller one, especially if it started at $399. So maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but I'm not buying it, Steve. You will make a smaller tablet. When, I don't know. But you will.